NORTH NEWTON — Bethel College Vice President for Student Life Samuel Haynes hadn’t been in his job very long when two students approached him about a problem they’d encountered.
Social work majors Akiyaa Hagen-Depusoir and Sophia Minder, then juniors, had become aware hunger was an issue for some Bethel students. They wanted to start a campus food pantry.
“Sam took this on, even with a lot of other projects,” said Bethel President Jon Gering at the food pantry’s opening Nov. 4, about a year after the idea was first raised.
“Think about your own favorite meal — maybe something you make or your mother or a friend might make,” Gering continued. “Fellowshipping around the table makes me feel energized. That sense of well-being is what I want for our students.”
Bethel joins more than 640 other colleges and universities across the country who are adding, or have added, a food pantry to the services offered to students.
According to the College & University Food Bank Alliance (cufba.org), low-income students are enrolling in college at increasing rates — 39% of undergraduate students were at or below 130% of the federal poverty guideline — and the majority of college students are classified as “nontraditional,” meaning they fit one or more of six criteria that include “single parent” and “must provide for dependents.”
All these things add up to a need to help more students with basic daily necessities.
The Bethel College food pantry is also open to faculty and staff. It will have daily hours, and will operate on the honor system. Four student volunteers will oversee the stocking and other maintenance.
At the food pantry’s opening, Haynes pointed out broad support that has already come in terms of financial and food donations, including from Bethel College Mennonite Church members and from Aladdin Food Services (the dining hall contractor).
“The most remarkable has been the care and support of our students,” Haynes said, “starting with Akiyaa and Sophia and extending to our student volunteers and others.”